By Trevor Beggs, Now contributor
SURREY — Although Great Britain was the favourite to win, Canada remained positive heading into the 2006 Paralympic Wheelchair Curling final in Turin, Italy.
After beating Norway in the semifinals, Canadian wheelchair curler Gary Cormack remembers thinking, “At least we’ve got a medal, we’re going to go home with something.”
It was a tight game right up until the very end and the teams traded chances throughout. In the eighth end, Great Britain’s skip Frank Duffy had a chance to win the game with the final stone, with Canada was holding a 6-4 lead.
Cormack, a Surrey resident, looked at teammate Sonja Gaudet and said, “At least we’re going home with silver, because this guy doesn’t miss.”
Great Britain had won the last two Wheelchair Curling World Championships, led by Duffy. When Duffy let go of the rock, he missed his shot, sending Canada to the gold medal.
In disbelief, Cormack turned to Gaudet.
“I think we just won gold,” Cormack gasped.
It was a whirlwind experience for the five members of that Canadian team, which was officially assembled only two months before the beginning of the Paralympic games in March 2006. Some of the other teams had already been together for years. The squad from Great Britain iced the exact same team that won the Wheelchair Curling World Championship in 2005.
(Pictured: Gary Cormack, left, watches teammate Chris Daw of Canada play his next shot while competing in the wheelchair curling final between Great Britain and Canada during the Turin 2006 Winter Paralympic Games on March 18, 2006.)
That 2006 team earned the first ever gold medal for Paralympic wheelchair curling. Since then, Canada has cleaned up in wheelchair curling, winning gold in both the 2010 and 2014 Paralympic games. Gaudet is the only person to win gold on all three teams.
The 2006 team was led by skip Chris Daw, who is the only Canadian Paralympian to represent Canada in four different sports in both the summer and winter Paralympics. Daw originally contacted Cormack about joining the team.
Cormack received a phone call from Daw the day before his birthday in the summer of 2005, asking if he wanted to try out for Team Canada.
“I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth fast enough, said Cormack. “Where and when can I sign up?”
Cormack had curled from high school until 1984, when he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 34. It temporarily put his curling career on hold.
He joined sledge hockey in 1994 and competed in a couple national tournaments, before getting involved in wheelchair curling in 1999.
When he joined, wheelchair curlers were still throwing the rock by hand. Cormack says trying to throw a 44-pound curling rock without having it constantly going astray from hitting the wheelchair is as difficult as it sounds.
“You’ve got to get a swing going [when throwing the rock] which isn’t as easy to do from the chair,” said Cormack.
The game improved when the sport introduced a curling stick.
This allowed wheelchair curlers to push the rock instead of throwing it from their wheelchairs. Cormack started using the stick to push the rock from his side, before changing his style to push the rock from the middle of his body.
Grandfathering the use of the stick into the game has helped the game grow both in Canada and internationally, although wheelchair curling itself experiences ebbs and flows in popularity.
“Curling always picks up during the Olympics,” said Cormack. “It picks up for the first year after the Olympics and then it drops off.”
Cormack has kept busy within the local curling community, competing recreationally in Langley, Tsawwassen and Marpole.
He admits that it is hard to believe 10 years have gone by since the victory, but he makes sure to share his victory with the rest of Canada.
The 2006 Canadian wheelchair curling team was called out to many events following their victory, especially with the following Olympic games being held in Vancouver. Cormack and the rest of his teammates were Grand Marshalls during the Calgary Stampede, and also met with the Prime Minister in Ottawa. Additionally they were asked to do presentations locally by schools and companies.
The hysteria surrounding their victory died off after the 2010 Winter Olympics. “We got a few invitations but nothing like it was before,” said Cormack.
It’s easy to tell that Cormack’s medal is well-travelled. Just looking at the frayed and faded red ribbon shows that possibly thousands of hands have touched his medal. “The medal doesn’t belong to me,” said Cormack, “It belongs to Canada. I just happen to be the holder of it.”